Anglers who spend the summer in Southwest Florida can enjoy some of the best fishing of the year if they go about it intelligently. During this warm and rainy season, folks down here can get “cabin fever” while confined in their air-conditioned home. There is only one time when escape into fresh cool air is possible, and that’s early in the day.
We have never been “o-dark thirty” anglers that naturally get up before dawn and head out. But once we’re on the water with the sun coming up and the fish biting, we feel right at home. Our neighborhood beaches make an outstanding spot to visit as the sun rises.
Our favorite beach this time of year is Stump Pass Beach State Park in Englewood. Due to the limited parking available, early is the only time to go. There are a few parking spots along the Ski Alley side of the lot that lead directly to a break in the mangroves and a perfect launch. If we get there too late to luck into one of these spaces, a dolly helps with our heavy kayaks. Be aware that there are no spaces for trailers in this small parking lot.
Early also works with the tides right about now. Our perfect float plan involves drifting down to the pass with the falling tide and fishing for snook. We can then float back to the launch on a rising tide. It isn’t always possible, but when it works it’s a lot of fun. The fishing in the pass and along the beach is worth getting up for.
If you choose to leave your kayak in the garage, it is fun to walk down to the pass from the parking area. The beach walk is only 1.1 miles to the pass, but the return trip can seem much longer. Catch-and-release is the law for snook these days but even with the season open, any notion of getting a chilled fish back to the car demands some serious planning.
Early mornings start off with an offshore breeze that will knock the waves down and make for some pretty long casts if necessary. Even the bugs ease up as the sun rises and they head back into the brush to escape the heat. Another factor that really helps is to have the sun over your shoulder, which lets you see into the water better with polarized sunglasses. We usually find the water on the beach clearer than the algae-colored bay water, which makes sight fishing here exciting.
Most folks use spinning gear with either live shrimp or soft plastics to hook up with beach snook. We really enjoy the battle even a small snook provides when we are using 10-pound test braid. Light line lets the fish deliver some long powerful runs without the worry of them hanging up in nearby mangroves or dock pilings.
Other anglers use fly rods with great success. An 8-weight rod with a floating line will work most mornings. Remember, snook near the beach are feeding in the trough just a short distance from the dry sand. Be aware of your shadow this time of day as it will spook these snook.
We usually cast either small shrimp flies or white clousers in the wash right along the shore. Determine which way the shore current is flowing so you can walk and fish “upstream” to approach these snook from their tail end while they face into the current. It always surprises us just how close we can get to these snook when we approach from downstream.
Should you choose to use live shrimp, leave the bait bucket in the car, and use a damp towel instead. Here’s how: Soak a small towel in the bait bucket water and wring it out. Then, roll up the towel with the shrimp inside. You have to move quickly to keep the shrimp in the towel. Next, wrap the towel in ice and put the whole package in a large plastic bag. We use the plastic ice mats that keep our beach bag dry.
The shrimp will be cold and slow when you get them out, but will quickly become frisky as they warm up. This method, called dry-packing, is a lot lighter and easier to deal with than a bait bucket and air pump. If you’re on a boat or pier fishing, you can use this same method with a cooler and your shrimp will stay alive all day.
As the sun gets higher and the bite slows, we’ll head back to the parking lot either by kayak or on foot to enjoy a late breakfast. Most days, we’re back home by 10 a.m. and ready for another day of working from home on our next column. We hope you get a chance to try this sometime soon for a cool change of pace.
Kimball and Les Beery, authors of the waterproof “Angler’s Guide to Shore Fishing Southwest Florida” and “Angler’s Guide to Kayak Fishing Southwest Florida,” contribute these columns to promote the excellent fishing available in Southwest Florida. Their books are available at most tackle shops in the area, AnglerPocketGuides.com, or Amazon as a download or hard copy.